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Growth Increase

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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(Gr. αὕξησις)

In most of the passages in which the idea of growth, growing, increase, occurs in the NT the words in use in the Greek are either parts or compounds of the verb αὐξάνω. The abstract noun ‘increase’ (αὕξησις) is found in only two passages-Ephesians 4:16, Colossians 2:19 -but the root of the word and the idea underlying occur frequently all through the apostolic writings. We also find περισσεύω, ‘abound,’ προκόπτω, ‘advance,’ πλεονάζω and ἐνδυναμόω, ‘strengthen,’ translated by the word ‘increase.’ Originally and in classical Greek the word αὐξάνω signified ‘increase by addition from the outside,’ used e.g. of a State increasing by adding to its territory, but in the NT the word is mainly used of seminal growth from within, such as the growth of a plant, animal, or person. The Hebrew writers were fond of comparing things natural with things spiritual, and found frequent analogy between natural and spiritual processes. They had a great wealth of words to express the idea of growth, and most of them signify the organic growth of living objects. According to Hebrew ideas, the natural laws of physical growth are made to apply to the spiritual realm. God is supreme in the world of Nature and the world of spirit alike. In both there is growth, and that is represented as the gift and working of God. He causes grass to grow (Psalms 104:14; Psalms 147:8), while the growth of restored and penitent Israel (Hosea 14:5; Hosea 14:7) is regarded as the result of the gracious operations of the forgiving God who is ‘as the dew unto Israel.’

These ideas are carried forward to the NT, and we have frequent references to the phenomena of growth, while the comparison between growth in the natural and in the spiritual world is fully developed. Four separate connexions in which the idea of growth is applied can be distinguished.

1. In John 3:30 the word αὐξάνω is applied to the growing power and authority of Jesus Himself as a religious teacher. ‘He must increase.’ The same idea is expressed in Acts 9:22 where the growing spiritual power of St. Paul as a preacher of the gospel is referred to. The word used, however, is ἐνδυναμόω, which emphasizes the aspect of power rather than the growth of it.

2. In the Acts of the Apostles the idea occurs in connexion with the progress of the Church as an external organization. The phrase in Acts 6:7; Acts 12:24; Acts 19:20, ‘The word of God increased’ or ‘grew,’ which seems to be a formula used to close the various sections in the history, refers to the growth of the number of believers. Here the word used is αὐξάνω. The statement in Acts 16:5, ‘The churches increased in number daily,’ which also closes the preceding section dealing with the second visit of St. Paul to Asia, varies slightly. The verb used is περισσεύω, but the idea is the same. As a result of apostolic labours the number of believers increased. In the same way we road in St. Stephen’s speech that the people of Israel ‘grew and multiplied in Egypt’ (Acts 7:17).

3. We find the word used in a theological connexion referring to the growth of individual believers in Christian character and graces. The apostolic preachers did not regard their work as finished when they had converted Jews or heathen to Christianity. The Christian life had to be lived, and Christian character had to be formed. Growth and increase must follow the new birth. This growth is, on the one hand, regarded as a natural development from the new seed implanted in the new birth. The new creature must grow in faith, in knowledge, in grace, in righteousness, in Christian liberality and brotherly love. Thus the Apostle Paul rejoices that the faith of the Thessalonians ‘groweth exceedingly’ (2 Thessalonians 1:3). He prays that the Colossians may increase in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:10), and beseeches the Thessalonians that they increase (or lit. [Note: literally, literature.] ‘abound,’ Gr. περισσεύω) more and more in brotherly love, by which he means Christian liberality (1 Thessalonians 4:10). For the purpose of furthering this growth, God has given apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Ephesians 4:10-15). In the same way St. Peter instructs his converts to desire the sincere milk of the word, that they ‘may grow thereby’ (1 Peter 2:2), and directly exhorts them to ‘grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour’ (2 Peter 3:18). On the other hand, this increase in grace or Christian character is at the same time the work of God. Thus St. Paul prays that the Lord may make the Thessalonians to increase and abound in love (1 Thessalonians 3:12). In writing to the Corinthian Church, he compares the work done by himself and Apollos, and declares, ‘I planted, Apollos watered, God increased’ (1 Corinthians 3:6). The object of all three verbs is the faith of the believers in Corinth, which St. Paul’s preaching had kindled and Apollos had nourished; but the work of both would have been ineffective but for God’s working, His making the seed to grow and increase (1 Corinthians 3:7). Likeness to Christ is regarded by the apostolic writers as the end of this growth (Ephesians 4:15).

4. But not only is the idea of growth applied to the Church as an outward organization, the visible Church which grows in numbers, and to the Christian character of individual believers; it is also applied to the Church as a spiritual unity which the Apostle Paul describes as the ‘body of Christ.’ According to the Apostle, all believers are members of that body; but the growth of the individual members in Christian character and especially in love leads to the growth or increase of the body as a whole. The Church will finally roach consummation and completion by a long process of growth and development. The nature, law, or order of this growth of the Church as the body of Christ is described in Ephesians 4:18 as ‘proceeding in accordance with an inward operation that adapts itself to the nature and function of each several part and gives to each its proper measure. It is a growth that is neither monstrous nor disproportioned, but normal, harmonious, careful of the capacity, and suited to the service of each individual member of Christ’s body’ (S. D. F. Salmond, ‘Ephesians,’ in Expositor’s Greek Testament , p. 338). All the members are united to one another and to Christ the Head, and draw nourishment and inspiration from Him and from one another, and thus increase ‘with the increase of God’ (Colossians 2:19), by which we may understand either the increase which God supplies, or, better, simply the increase such as God requires.

Literature.-S. D. F. Salmond, ‘Ephesians,’ in Expositor’s Greek Testament , 1903: A. S. Peake, ‘Colossians,’ in Expositor’s Greek Testament , 1903; H. A. W. Meyer, Der erste Brief an die Korinther4 (Kommentar, 1861), Der Brief an die Epheser3 (do. 1859), Die Brief an die Philipper, Kolosser, und an Philemon 1:3 (do. 1865); J. B. Lightfoot, Colossians and Philemon, 1876; B. Whitefoord, article ‘Growing,’ in Dict. of Christ and the Gospels .

W. F. Boyd.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Growth Increase'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​g/growth-increase.html. 1906-1918.
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